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Focus on Adoption - a Rogues Gallery


Focus on Adoption - a Rogues Gallery

James R. Marsh

February 14, 2008 2:15 PM

Let me keep it as simple as possible. Since as early as December 5, 2004, the “intercountry adoption advocacy organization” Focus on Adoption has been a virtual rogues gallery of the leading unethical playas in international adoption.

On December 5, 2004, the FOA website listed Jeannene Smith as the organization’s treasurer. Smith’s name, along with Keith Wallace of Families thru International Adoption [FTIA], appeared prominently in Masha Allen’s October 7, 2003 Child Profile Study Report. Clearly Smith, along with Wallace, knew exactly what had become of child porn star Masha when Smith was promoted to an FOA officer. This from the FOA website:

Jeannene Smith is the founder and CEO of Reaching Out thru International Adoption, Inc., [ROTIA] a fully recognized non-profit humanitarian aid and child placement organization… She has provided testimony and position statements to Congressional leaders and the media on various international adoption issues such as the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000, the Hague Convention and implementation issues both in the US and abroad, child trafficking and international adoption reform and has presented seminars on international adoption issues, practices and processes both in the US and abroad.

Jeannene has remained involved in legislative issues, serving in the past on several JCICS committees and currently serves on the JCICS Hague Committee, Ethics Committee, and as the Chair of the Cambodia Caucus. In addition, Jeannene served on the Advisory Council on Intercountry Adoption (ACIA) Hague Committee.

Next up, FTIA. Despite Keith Wallace’s desperate attempts during his Congressional testimony to distance himself and FTIA from Smith, ROTIA and the Masha Allen adoption, his lackey Chris Huber was and REMAINS a member of FOA to this day. This from the FOA website dated December 5, 2004:

Chris Huber is the Latin American Program Manager for Families Thru International Adoption, a 501C3 not for profit international placing agency licensed in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Chris has lived and worked in Central and South America for almost 15 years and currently supervises adoption programs in Guatemala and Brazil as well as developing new programs in other Latin American countries… He joined FOA to help assure that children around the world continue to have the opportunity to be adopted into a loving family.

Gee Keith, despite your Congressional denunciations, you must have thought we were just too damn stupid to notice this connection. And until today, I guess we were.

On to yet another FOA sycophant, Carl Jenkins. Jenkins didn’t need the notoriety of the Masha Allen debacle to become sullied. Instead he created his very own scandal in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act [RICO] lawsuit which is pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I should know because I represent the adoptive parents and the local adoption agency who are plaintiffs in the litigation. Welcome to the MarshLaw/ChildLaw club Carl!!

This from the FOA website dated December 5, 2004:

Carl Jenkins is a former litigation attorney who now consults in non-profit restructuring, insurance coverage issues and wrongful adoption defense. He is also General Counsel for World Child® International, a Maryland-licensed, international adoption agency.

Carl is actively involved in the Hague Accreditation process through several organizations and has also served such varied community interest groups as: Peer Reviewer for the Council on Accreditation; At Large member on the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Committee for the Maryland Sixth Circuit; and served as Counsel to the Clergy for the Holy Name Order (Franciscans). He has spoken or moderated panels at Resolve, F.A.C.E., Quad A and JCICS conferences regularly during the past several years. He also has been published in Adoptive Family Magazine and other periodic journals on adoption issues.

Now a shout out to my other fav peeps at the National Council for Adoption, who just welcomed Jenkins’s agency World Child International as a new member, and some free advice: you should always Google “marshlaw” + “proposed NCFA member” as part of your rigorous due diligence. Just a friendly hint to help you avoid future embarrassment.

Moving right on through FOA’s opium den we find, on the April 5, 2005 version of their website, media spin-mistress Cindy Peck. Take it away Cin (in her very own words):

Cynthia Peck is a persuasive adoption advocate who has worn many hats in the adoption field for thirty years. She brings to the FOA Board a perspective honed as an educator, an agency practitioner, an adoptive parent of 8 young adults and a writer. For 20 years, Cindy edited and published Roots and Wings Adoption Magazine, which merged with Adoption TODAY in 2000. She is the author of Parents at Last: Celebrating Adoption and the New Pathways to Parenthood (Random House/Crown). Currently, Cindy is the editor of Fostering Families TODAY Magazine, which she co-founded with publisher Richard Fischer in 2001. She has served on the founding Boards of two international adoption agencies and on the Board of JCICS.

A lot of good action advocacy words there Cynthia. A real addition to the team with street creds to boot. Way to go girl!

Now right before all that REAL BAD NEWS about Masha broke on December 1, 2005 in the led-by-Jeannene-Smith-ever-ethical-international-adoption-industry’s universally reviled ABC Primetime exposé, FOA added this curious disclaimer to their website:

Focus On Adoption is a volunteer, non-profit organization. Most of our activities are funded through the donations of adoption professionals. Focus On Adoption does not have the ability to audit the ethical policies of its supporters. While we hope that only adoption professionals who agree with and operate within proper ethical standards actively support us, this is not something enforceable by Focus On Adoption. Therefore, private individuals researching adoption providers should not view an agency’s support of Focus On Adoption as being anything more than the fact that the agency has donated to help us with our mission. Support of Focus On Adoption should not be considered an endorsement of any sort on our part.

Whew, that certainly cleared things up, leaving FOA blissfully absolved as far as all that distasteful Masha pedophile stuff goes. Wouldn’t want the unsuspecting public and future international adoption consumers to get the wrong idea. And all of this just in time to welcome Tom DiFilipo to the FOA board!

Tom. How are you? Folks you remember Tom. Tom is the guy who now runs the Joint Council on International Children Services or JCICS in international adopt-speak. You can read all about him right here on this very blog.

Tommy’s the guy (can I call you Tommy?) who allowed ROTIA (yep that’s Jeannene Smith’s agency AGAIN) to resign from JCICS right before they had to undertake the nasty job of SELF-REGULATION. Yeah that’s right. An INVESTIGATION of ROTIA for Masha’s adoption which I had to request because, after all, what did they know about Jeannene Smith and ROTIA anyway. That is, before I pointed it out to them.

I know I know, keeping up with the news is such a challenge these days even when your peeps attend and testify at the actual Congressional hearing where Jeannene was called a liar and threatened with jail and all that. But given the heavy hitter which Tommy certainly is, he’s got TONS of Congressional hearings to worry about. I can certainly understand how this little ole’ hearing slipped his mind.

And what a coincidence. By the time I told Tom all about it, ROTIA had resigned JCICS, and Jeannene had packed up her pony and headed off into the sunset only to be re-emerge like a phoenix six months later as ChildsPromise. Boy, Tom must have a BIG JOB keeping up with all those ethical adoption agencies considering all the name changes, scandals, lawsuits and such. But here he is in his own words from the November 25, 2005 FOA website. Take it away Tom:

Tom DiFilipo currently serves as Vice-President of Programs & Services for the CASI Foundation. He recently served as Chief Operations Officer for International Children’s Alliance, Board Chairperson of Discovery Outreach and as an independent consultant in management practices for a variety of non-profits. In the private sector, Tom has held executive management positions with Sorbee International, Mars Inc. and Pace Brokers. Tom is the father of three children, two of whom joined his family through adoption in Russia.

Curiously, right around this time FOA stopped accepting new members. I mean with members like these, who needs more members right. And one can certainly appreciate their fears because once the Masha story broke there were sure to be THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of desperate and eager single middle aged men willing to do anything to jump on the pedophile, I mean ETHICAL and RESPONSIBLE, adoption bandwagon.

All with the purest of motives of course, of course, but still, all that cash, the paperwork, applications and all the peer vetting, careful review, background checks and such. I for one can understand how more “official members” would be just way way too much for FOA handle, especially after Masha. Thankfully anyone can still support the cause by donating. Give early and give often. “Think of the children. This is what it’s all about.”

Here’s the pithy disclaimer FOA put on their site sometime in the fall of 2005:

While Focus on Adoption no longer has official “members”, below are suggested donations to help keep our mission alive. Donating annually at the suggested rates may entitle you to discounts on conferences and events sponsored by Focus on Adoption.

Last but not least (don’t worry girl, I didn’t forget you of all my homey-gs) is FOA board member Debbie Spivack. Debbie actually gets all the credit for opening my mind to the wonders of FOA. Let’s let Deb rap for herself before we take a closer look at her rep.

Debbie Spivack is an attorney whose practice focuses on adoption and family building… . She has worked with client families and organizations over the years to assist them in achieving their goals, and has been a vocal and effective advocate on adoption policy issues.

Most recently, Debbie served as the Executive Director of Reaching Out thru International Adoption, Inc. In this position, she was involved in all aspects of placing children from countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America with families throughout the United States. She worked closely with adoptive parent clients on all aspects of their cases, and worked closely with foreign counterparts to address legal issues on the foreign processing side of their cases. She also developed relationships with foreign attorneys, orphanages, and government officials to create new adoption programs and provide humanitarian aid.

Debbie has also been an effective voice to advocate in favor of adoption policy to enable children without families find homes. Most notably, she advocated effectively for appropriate modifications to the regulations proposed in 2003 to implement the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 and Hague Convention in the United States.The Hague Regulation Analysis she drafted was widely favored among adoption advocates for its damaging legal and policy impact, and, ultimately its suggestions were adopted substantially into the final draft of the Regulations, issued in February 2006. She also served an active member of a number of committees analyzing the Regulations (including the JCICS Hague Regulation committee and the Hague Committee of Advisory Council on Intercountry Adoption, a collaboration of national organizations recognized as leaders in the ethical and professional practice of adoption and child welfare services). Debbie further served as the JCICS Chairperson of the Azerbaijan Caucus and as the Co-Chairperson of the ICARE Government Affairs Committee. In 2005, Debbie was awarded with the JCICS 110% Member Award in appreciation for the work performed on the ICARE legislation analysis.

Yo Deb that’s a heavy rep and a lotta words. But we’re trying to take a comprehensive look here so let’s not forget your premier role in all this international adoption stuff. Folks are you ready? Now s l o w l y open your eyes …

Speak for the Children: Little Things Really Can Make a Difference by Debbie Spivack. No better words have been spoken and no greater position taken than those who SPEAK FOR THE CHILDREN!!!! Fearless souls like Debbie Spivack. Filled with zeal … damn now I’ll just say it (I used to be an evangelical) filled with the HOLY SPIRIT! (Debbie you and Judge Cheryl Allen should DEFINITELY get together. Cheryl meet Debbie, Deb meet Cher. Judge A. herself played another pivotal role in poor Masha Allen’s life, but more on that later. What is it about Pennsylvania, folks. What can it be …)

Now given the miraculous power of the internet, you gentle readers, and the entire world can carefully read and thoughtfully consider the finely honed words of Ms. Spivak in their exact context in April 2005.

A quick review of the timeline here. By October 2003 Jeannene Smith and her cronies know all about Masha’s horrible fate. December 2004 Smith become treasurer of FOA. FTIA’s Huber is also ensconced on the FOA board along with RICO Jenkins. By April 2005 the Disney World Girl Masha Allen’s story has appeared in the international news. An eager press corps can not be far behind in their search for the truth behind the story. Media maven Cindy Peck is ready to spin the humanitarian angle. “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” becomes the universal battle cry. Lawyer Spivack rises to the challenge.

The result is Speak for the Children: Little Things Really Can Make a Difference which was posted on the FOA member listserve. It was clearly a proactive effort “[g]iven the recent wave of negative publicity, ROTIA thought it might be useful to share this article with adoptive parents and professionals in the hopes of working together for the benefit of the children.”

Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard law professor who gave the keynote speech at the January 2005 FOA conference, provides a veneer of intellectual respectability and a much needed bibliographic reference. No time to worry about conflicts of interest. Not when there are children and the entire institution of international adoption which needs saving.

Spivack’s apologetic issues to the faithful with Masha as its centerpiece. It becomes the Mein Kampf in FOA’s effort to turn back the negative publicity associated with the Masha story. Read it (don’t miss Steve Osborn’s comments at the bottom - a must read!!), then digest my commentary.

And finally look what ultimately happens. Masha gets erased from the story. In the version Spivack eventually posts on her lawfirm’s website, “Masha” becomes “Jenya” a self-styled “child like yours… . saved from a life of prostitution and drugs by a family from halfway around the world who had the resources and desire to care for her.” If only this much could be said for Masha Allen. If only.

2008 Feb 14